There’s a new Chinese online dictionary called nciku. Oh, wait, excuse me… it’s “more than a dictionary.” The service may have a pretty bad English name, but the site itself looks well designed.

Anyway, I’m very impressed with the handwriting recognition. The interface is a very slick blend of Flash and javascript that puts other online handwriting recognition attempts to shame.

It’s great because it can recognize fluid handwriting where the strokes run together. Yes, you may have seen that kind of software before, but keep in mind that this is a free online dictionary.

Below are some examples of horrible handwriting being correctly recognized.


(Each character to the right displays its pinyin when you mouse over it.)

One of the really cool things about the handwriting recognition is that it keeps going in realtime as long as you write, and it always guesses. I’ve used programs that reach their recognition limit and just say, “nope, can’t do it.” Well, not this one. It gets an A+ for effort.

This, of course, leads to some fun experimentation. Here are a few of mine:


Thanks to David for introducing me to this website.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Awesome. Thanks to both you and David.

  2. Whoa! that is so COOL!
    i like the handwriting feature! (but not working in firefox at the moment?)

  3. There’re some handwriting recognition softwares in internet, but now, I can use the online one, nice, thanks again!
    (Ok, i admit i sometimes forget/dunno the character’s pronunciation πŸ˜› )

  4. Ok, my turn.


    This is an online (Advanced) Chinese dictionary, it’s for native speakers but they also give simple English explainings beneath each entry. Besides, they offer tool/plug-in for your browser, check it here

  5. That Rocks, John!

    You’ll be happy to know that I’ve shared your site with two of my Chinese language professors and both of them are regular readers of your site and find some of your stuff to be beneficial to their students. O course, a lot of your stuff is beneficial to my own learning as well.

  6. Wow, life can get better. Thanks for introducing the site. Now go license it and put it within Cpod!!!

  7. That really is ace. It would have saved me a lot of time last week trying to track down a particular character, and made me look a little less like a vegetable.

    BTW: Works fine (if slowly) on Firefox

  8. So what DOES tic-tac-toe translate to?

  9. It’s so cool.

  10. Thanks for sharing.

  11. o funny man! ;p

  12. Charles Liu Says: August 9, 2007 at 7:00 am

    Try drawing a happy face – you get the word “self” (Ji3).

  13. Thank you Thank you THANK YOU!

    I’ve been in an intensive elementary chinese class for the past month and a half, and with all the words we’ve been cramming into our heads (20+ a day) its easy to forget a few. This is a godsend for those tricky characters I forget while doing homework!

    Also, I’ve been reading your blog for the last month or so and I have to say its awesome. I check it almost every day for updates (And too, but that’s just wishful thinking…).


  14. Although tic-tac-toe is not played in China, 三子棋 (sanziqi) is the name I always use for it, derived from the term 五子棋 (wuziqi), a similar but more challenging game.

  15. SO useful! Thank you!

  16. Super cool!

  17. Alexandra Says: August 10, 2007 at 2:37 am

    Thanks for mentioning this website…. everytime I come across a fun new tool like this it just renews my desire to learn chinese… Thanks a lot!

  18. Thanks for the nice comments about what I think is one of our best features.

    I got our blog back up and running so check it out if you’ve got the time.

  19. By the time I got to the end of that entry, I was laughing out loud. Thank you for directing me to nciku, and thanks for the giggle.

  20. nciku (what a name!??) will not recognize traditional characters…

  21. Awesome awesome awesome. But for the life of me I couldn’t get it to input 手, I was trying to look up some word where I only knew one of the characters and was feeling too lazy to press ctrl+shift. And the dictionary isn’t as click-aroundable as Wenlin’s. But in general this is a great tool and at least 20 times better than looking up characters with those cheesy stroke tables at the beginning of the dictionary.

  22. Thank you all for your interest in NCIKU and the Handwriting Recognition, which is the result of cooperation NHN and UniHan – my company.
    Please give us more comment and suggestions about Chinese e-learning, that we may provide more and more amazing service to you !

  23. We just made some upgrades over here at nciku. Check them out when you’ve got the time.

    PS> Thanks for wasting my Sunday on your geometry problem.

  24. […] what I’m looking for even before I finish. For more on this innovative tool, checkout this Sinosplice post from last year […]

  25. I saw nciku only yesterday for the first time. I began to study Chinese.
    Your experimentation is fun. It makes me laugh.
    Thank you for the useful information about a new free Chinese online dictionary, nciku.

  26. well, you should try this site too:

  27. hi….guys….now you can add nciku-msn-buddy on your msn list. very cool chinese study tool πŸ™‚
    just add:

  28. Richard Says: May 22, 2008 at 7:54 am

    nciku’s parent company is apparently the biggest internet company in Korea, and they seem to be investing quite a lot of resources into the nciku website, so I don’t understand how they could have chosen such an awful name. It’s hard to remember and difficult to work out how to pronounce it. They are currently running a competition to find a slogan to make nciku easier to remember. I think they shot themselves in the foot when they chose their name, and now they need to bite the bullet (in their foot!) and start over with a new name, carefully chosen this time.

  29. I just checked out the “nciku” tool, and it is very impressive (website is pretty stream lined as well), and Richard is right about the bad choice of name and branding, perhaps they should change their name to some thing more brand-able, it’s not too late πŸ˜‰

  30. […] has definitely improved upon Apple’s handwriting input, and it’s at least as good as nciku’s, as well. It has two […]

  31. yes, its cool, but I’ll keep using my favorite websaru english chinese dictionary, cause nciku is damn slow

  32. Good site but it’s often down

Leave a Reply